Selling Salesforce: Not your average channel partnership

SAN FRANCISCO – Consulting partners of Inc. will tell you working with the cloud vendor is not your typical channel experience, but with the San Francisco-based firm hungry for certified administrators and posting fast-growing revenues for partners, it could be a lucrative one.

In its partner keynote at Dreamforce, its annual mega-conference in San Francisco this week, Salesforce shared that partner revenue has doubled over the past three years. Dan Smoot, executive vice-president of partner sales highlighted how the firm is supporting its consulting partner eco-system. At its core, the updates seem to improve information sharing and incent Salesforce employees to help partners find success.

“We no longer want to surprise our partner community with our services, we want to offer them to you to leverage,” Smoot said. “We want to share our methodology on data-smart selling. We actually look at what the customer behaviour is and their propensity to buy.”

Smoot shared a few details of how Salesforce is helping partners:

  • Deeper customer insights with sales method sharing included. Compass is the Salesforce approach to selling, and content about executing this will be shared with partners.
  • Salesforce’s Customer Success team will now be compensated, in part, based on partner success.
  • The launch of Partner Accelerators, providing one-on-one discussions with Salesforce specialists to solve problems that are preventing ramp-up.

As for the opportunities for partners, Neeracha Taychakhoonavudh, senior vice-president of partner programs,, pointed to the ongoing effort to modernize Salesforce on the updated Lightning user interface. There are services opportunities around those migrations.

She also promised more content for partners on topics including CPQ, Commerce Cloud, and Data Management Platform. Plus, expect to see more Salesforce events targeting partners in the future.

“You told us that you want us out in the field with you face to face,” she says. “We’ve seen over 18,000 of you in the field so far this year.”

Salesforce has a goal of finding 75,000 more admins currently, and a portion of that will be filled by consulting partners.

Computer Dealer News connected with two Salesforce partners at Dreamforce, PwC and Traction on Demand. Here are some insights from their different approaches to partnering with Salesforce:

PwC – Powering modern business process with cloud tools

Since the concept of Design Thinking made the cover of Harvard Business Review more than a year ago, it’s mainstream business practice now, says Philip Grosch, the leader of the centre of excellence for front office transformation at PwC Canada. Now organizations across all sectors and verticals are grappling with the challenge to reshape themselves around that concept, along with other modern methodologies like agile and co-creation.

Think of it as the new change management.

“Only it’s much harder than that,” Grosch says. “You need to get to the core of how you work as a business. It’s flattening the corporate hierarchy.”

No longer can the CEO just mandate a vision and ask employees to try and reach it. The modern organization is more fluid and has more hands creating the vision. That’s easy to say, but it’s harder to do. PwC can help implement Salesforce tools and then build processes around those tools to help get there.

Partners considering a Salesforce practice should start using the tools themselves first, he advises.

“If you’re going to be a credible Salesforce partner, you have to follow the ecosystem that Salesforce has put in place and use the tools,” he says.

When it comes time to try and make the first sale, relationships with clients are key. You’ll have to identify that risk-taking leader that is willing to take the first step and fire up a Skunk Works project with the new tools.

Traction on Demand – the dedicated partner 

Ten years ago Greg Malpass, founder of Traction on Demand, started a solo business doing quick Salesforce implementations in Vancouver. Today it’s the largest implementation partner in the eco-system with 350 certified Salesforce administrators, operating as a fully-dedicated Salesforce shop across North America. It’s also delved into the ISV space with four applications, two of which are available in the Salesforce AppExchange.

The question of whether a managed service provider business should consider partnering with Salesforce is a no-brainer for Chris Peacock, vice-president of marketing alliances at Traction on Demand. “Why would you not build an alliance with the most innovative technology company on the planet?”

This firm made that calculated risk of putting all of its eggs in one basket with Salesforce early on, and that’s paid off, he says. But he warns that operating as a Salesforce partner is not a typical technology channel model – rather, it’s more of an alliance.

“They’re selling the product and we’re selling the services,” he says.

Simply put, Traction on Demand doesn’t make money on selling licences. Instead, it makes money by selling the services around the technology. It forms a close relationship with Salesforce account managers to help them sell licences, and in turn, it’s paired up with clients in need of implementation help. Traction on Demand says it makes $2 in services fees for every $1 of Salesforce licences it helps to sell.

In fact, even when Salesforce did pay referral fees to partners for selling its product, founder Malpass never cashed the cheques. Instead, he donated it to a charity of his client’s choice. Traction on Demand continues that tradition today with the remaining referral fees it does collect from third-party vendors in the Salesforce eco-system.

That’s not the only unconventional aspect of Traction on Demand, says Kevin Murray, manager of marketing and alliances. It also doesn’t compensate its sales team based on individual sales performance. Instead, everyone at the company is given a bonus structure based on the entire success of the business.

“With the normal sales model, there’s no incentive to not oversell and push accounts the organization can’t deliver on,” he says. “We have an approach that focuses on winning as a team and on building and fostering relationships.”

Salesforce has a good partner program, Peacock says, with partner managers that are compensated based on the revenue made by the partners they are responsible for. There’s also a classification system for leads brought in by partners, considering them either “sourced” or “influenced” by the partner. Traction on Demand deals with one main partner manager, but also juggles relationships with 15-20 at a time as it expands into new territories.

“It’s a lot ot manage, but that’s better than no one being at the other end of the phone,” Peacock says.

Other challenges for partners in recent years can be keeping up with the acquisitions that Salesforce has been making to expand its platforms. For example, partners specializing on the marketing functions of Salesforce had to retrain on Marketing Cloud after the ExactTarget acquisition in 2013.

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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